Breaking into the Not for Profit Sector: Top Tips

Posted by IsabelFrazer on 27 June 2014

Thinking of pursuing a career in the Not for Profit (NFP) sector but unsure about how to get your foot in the door?

I recently attended a presentation on 'Careers in Not for Profits' given by careers consultant Katie Bisaro at the London Graduate Fair. Katie has over 8 years of professional experience in the NFP sector. Read on for some top tips on how to be successful in your pursuit of a career in NFP.

Tip 1: Know the sector

It sounds pretty basic but do you know the difference between the work charities do and that of NGOs (non-governmental organisations)? Generally speaking charities (such as Barnardo's, Age UK and Shelter here in the UK) will focus on domestic issues whilst NGOs (think Oxfam, Save the Children, IRC) will work both domestically and internationally. Not sure which area is for you? Do some research into different charities or NGOs. Should you apply for roles with either then you should be able to demonstrate knowledge of the context within which the organisation operates.

Tip 2: Research the different types of organisations

Charities and NGOs are not the only organisations within the NFP sector. Think Tanks & Consultancies such as the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) commission and carry out research on international development. There are many donor organisations such as the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department of the European Commission (ECHO). Multilateral agencies such as the Organisation for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD) work on promoting policy. Do some research into the organisations, see which ones appeal to you.

Tip 3: Research the roles
Organisations can vary in size from 1 person (doing everything!) to large organisations with hundreds of employees in a variety of roles. Research the different roles to find out which ones may suit your skills and experience and that you may enjoy. Types of roles in charity and NGO work can include:

  • Programme & operations roles, such as Programme Coordinators: they deliver the service
  • Support functions: HR, recruitment, IT, admin, finance etc
  • Fundraising roles
  • Policy & research roles
  • Advocacy: campaign work, raising public profile and awareness
  • Media & comms

Get some exposure to the work involved in these roles by talking to professionals in the sector, and taking a look on jobs boards for role descriptions.

Tip 4: Know the core competencies

Knowing the competencies needed for a particular role / area within NFP work can be extremely helpful. You can work on areas in which you have skills and knowledge gaps to make yourself a more attractive candidate when applying for jobs. For example, if you want to get into humanitarian work check out the Core Humanitarian Competencies Framework from CBHA.

Above all you should be able to demonstrate commitment, and an understanding of the values of the organisation.

Tip 5: Routes In

Some ideas:

  • Admin: Doing an admin role shows a willingness to take on the work. You will learn how the organisation works, people will rely on your knowledge and come to you for advice. You will be in a position to learn a lot!
  • Volunteer in your free time with charities: volunteering doesn’t mean you can't have a day job, but you could think about doing so in your spare time such as evenings and weekends.
  • Transfer in from other sectors: this can be an excellent route in especially for niche areas such as marketing and comms.

Tip 6: Build your networks

Go along to talks and events within the field you want to get into. Keep up-to-date on the latest news and publications.

  • Go to free events e.g. Overseas Development Institute (ODI) events, and Amnesty International run events throughout the year.
  • Join relevant associations e.g. UN association-UK and BOND (a UK membership body for organisations working in international development).
  • LinkedIn: Join the humanitarian professional network and other relevant groups.

Tip 7: Broaden your experience

For example:

  • Enrol on a training course e.g. with BOND and RedR (who offer humanitarian training for NGO workers).
  • You could get involved with local council events or volunteer in your spare time with charities.
  • Support major charity events such as Oxjam.
  • Offer language support to non-native speakers.

Tip 8: Reality check

Even if you are based in the field your job may be heavily computer based. You can spend a lot of time working very closely with colleagues and under pressure. Depending on your role you may not spend all of your time (or only a fraction of your time) working directly with the people that your organisation is helping. So get some more information firsthand from people who work in the sector to find out if it is right for you!

Tip 9: Determination will get you there!

And finally some useful resources:

Topics: charity

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